Acceptance by Example

New York Times

Acceptance by Example, on the Field and at Home

By SCOTT FUJITA; Published: March 23, 2013

My three young daughters, like most kids, are curious and ask a lot of questions. My wife and I are as open and honest with them as possible. But there’s one question I’m not prepared to answer: “Why aren’t Clare and Lesa married?”

Mark Duncan/Associated Press; Scott Fujita, a linebacker in the N.F.L., has spoken out for marriage equality.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press; Scott Fujita, a linebacker in the N.F.L., has spoken out for marriage equality.

I don’t know how to explain to them what “inferior” means or why their country treats our friends as such. I don’t want to tell them that “Yes, our friends love each other just like Mommy and Daddy love each other, but that their love is considered ‘less than.’ ”

As my girls grow up, they will learn about a few of the more embarrassing moments in our nation’s history. And I expect they’ll ask questions. But for the most part, I’ll be prepared to respond because I can point to the progress that followed.

They will learn that their great-grandmother Lillie delivered a son, their Grandpa Rod, in a Japanese-American relocation camp during World War II. Initially, they might be shocked that this is part of America’s past. But I’ll be able to tell them, ”I think a lesson was learned from that experience, and it won’t happen again.”

They will learn that couples of different races, like their grandparents, were once denied the right to marry. But at least I’ll be able to say, “Thanks to a Virginia couple named Richard and Mildred Loving, things are better now.”

At some point, they will hear the term “separate but equal,” and will learn there was a time when their father would not have been able to go to the same school or sit in the same restaurant with many of the same friends that he now shares an N.F.L. locker room with. But then I can say to them, “That was a long time ago, and look how far we’ve come.”

Barton Silverman/The New York Times; Scott Fujita said his father’s experience in an internment camp helped inform his views.

Barton Silverman/The New York Times; Scott Fujita said his father’s experience in an internment camp helped inform his views.

I anticipate us having similar conversations about women’s suffrage or Rosa Parks. And each time, I’ll be able to say that this country moved toward progress. Sometimes, change is slow, but when we know better, we do better.

Sometimes, people ask me what any of this has to do with football. Some think football players like me should just keep our mouths shut and focus on the game. But we’re people first, and football players a distant second. Football is a big part of what we do, but a very small part of who we are. And historically, sports figures like Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali have been powerful agents for social change. That’s why the messages athletes send — including the way they treat others and the words they use — can influence many people, especially children.

Believe it or not, conversations about issues like gay marriage take place in locker rooms every day. In many respects, the football locker room is a microcosm of society. While there is certainly an element of bravado in our sport, football players are not the meatheads many think we are. For some of my friends who raise personal objections to marriage equality, they still recognize the importance of being accepting. And many of them also recognize that regardless of what they choose to believe or practice at home or at their church, that doesn’t give them the right to discriminate. I am encouraged by how I’ve seen such conversations evolve.

Recently, I heard someone say: “You can legislate tolerance, but you can’t legislate acceptance. That takes a societal shift.” Such transformation requires more than just common sense. It takes love, understanding and time. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. I agree with the lower courts that said Proposition 8 violated the constitutional rights of gay men and women without any evidence-based rationale for doing so, and I, along with other professional athletes, signed my name to a brief sent to the court stressing the importance of marriage equality. Now the Supreme Court — like a referee in a football game — has the opportunity to simply enforce the rules as written. And I’m confident the justices will.

I support marriage equality for so many reasons: my father’s experience in an internment camp and the racial intolerance his family experienced during and after the war, the gay friends I have who are really not all that different from me, and also because of a story I read a few years back about a woman who was denied the right to visit her partner of 15 years when she was stuck in a hospital bed.

My belief is rooted in a childhood nurtured by a Christian message of love, compassion and acceptance. It’s grounded in the fact that I was adopted and know there are thousands of children institutionalized in various foster programs, in desperate need of permanent, safe and loving homes, but living in states that refuse to allow unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, to adopt because they consider them not fit to be parents.

In articulating all my feelings about marriage equality, I almost don’t know where to begin. And perhaps that’s part of the problem. Why do we have to explain ourselves when it comes to issues of fairness and equality? Why is common sense not enough?

Years ago, my wife and I became friendly with a young woman whose teenage brother committed suicide after coming out to an unsuspecting and unsupportive father. This woman explained that her father was a football guy, a “man’s man” — whatever that means. She challenged me to speak up for her lost brother because, as she said, the only way to change the heart and mind of someone like her father was for him to hear that people he admires would embrace someone like his son.

I hope that soon after Tuesday’s arguments in front of the Supreme Court, people like me won’t have to speak up for those sons or daughters. No one owns the definition of love. It comes in all shapes and sizes. As Toni Morrison wrote, “Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.” One thing I know for certain is that you can’t put a face on love, and you can’t tell me what a family is supposed to look like.

I recently received a message from a friend who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for eight years: “Pretty much my entire adult life I’ve always felt like I should settle for not having similar rights because I’m old enough to see how far we’ve come. I’ve grown accustomed to it. But I so hope it changes for the next generation because I hate to think that because they love, they should feel ‘less than.’ ”

I don’t ever want to explain to my daughters that some “versions” of love are viewed as “less than” others. I’m not prepared to answer that kind of question.

Instead, in just a few short years, and in the same way we now sometimes ask the previous generation, I hope my daughters will ask me: “What was all the fuss about back then?” I’m looking forward to hearing that question.

Scott Fujita is an 11-year N.F.L. veteran and an ambassador for Athlete Ally, which fights homophobia in sports.

Full story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/sports/football/scott-fujita-acceptance-by-example-in-locker-room-and-at-home.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&smid=tw-share

Filed in: Press Room, Writing • Monday, March 25th, 2013

Comments

By Jim Paschal on March 25th, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Scott,

Great article! As a white, straight US citizen, I sometimes feel ashamed of how the white majority has treated various minorities over our history. Members of the majority can’t go back in time and protest the Japanese relocation camps, and we can’t go back and join the march in Selma, but we can speak up today and urge understanding, tolerance and acceptance for all our gay citizens. Racism is certainly not dead, but we have made great progress in my lifetime; much slower that we should, but great progress never the less. I feel that we are beginning that long, slow journey on the road to conquering homophobia also. People with “celebrity capital” speaking out will only hasten that pace.

Thank you.

Growing up as a gay kid in the 1960s P.E. was one class I usually dreaded, not due to sports but my classmates. I developed an intense aversion to team sports which survives today (I found out only 5 minutes ago you used be a Saint! [New Orleans is home and I might even have gone to a game if I’d known you were on the team]).

You give hope to thousands of GLBT kids and send a message to everyone that prejudice is wrong. You’re an amazing person and there should be many more like you. I wish you and your family the best!

 

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About

Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more